Are you Digitally Presentable? | A Digital Self-Presentation How-to

woman taking a picture with a smartphone

Self-presentation and self-promotion serve as two very important pillars of impression management. Since each of these approaches helps us understand and master how to put our best digital foot forward, we need to have an understanding of their roles in our life.

Self-Promotion vs. Self-Presentation

Self-promotion is mostly about what we do while self-presentation is all about who we are and how we are perceived by others. Self-presentation includes how we look, how we act, how we speak, and how we dress, among other things. All of these things are controllable if we take the time to manage them correctly. We are constantly engaged in self-presentation, subconsciously as well as consciously. When we subconsciously self-present, it is usually in informal situations such as posting pictures or videos of ourselves on Facebook or taking random selfies and texting them to friends and family. In those cases, we don’t pay too much attention to other peripheral elements that are also captured in those digital opportunities such as background visuals, extraneous noise, or how we are dressed at the moment. It isn’t about making a purposeful good impression as much as it is simply sharing ourselves spontaneously.

Purposeful Self-Presentation

When we become conscious of our digital self-presentation, it’s not only because we want to make a good impression on the viewer or audience, but also because we want to achieve a specific, desirable goal (Kenrick, Neuberg, & Cialdini, 2010). For example, many folks provide professional “head shots” in their professional profiles, blogs, or Gravatars. In professional videos, there are more factors to consider, such as eliminating background noise, ensuring proper lighting, and either memorizing one’s delivery or using a teleprompter for assistance. These images and videos need to be carefully planned and staged, including but not limited to the background colors we choose, the tilt of the head in still shots, body posture, tone of voice in videos, and of course, clothing and makeup. How well we are groomed does affect the first impression we give in a job interview (Myers, 2010). Hooley and Yates (2015) expand on the relevance of aesthetic presentation skills and the role of attractiveness with respect to self-presentation in career development. Not slouching, having well-combed hair, and an overall polished appearance are important, as well as how we choose to adorn ourselves. According to Hooley and Yates (2015), there needs to be a balance of clothing that reflects our identity and suits the role for which we are applying. In addition, all of this preparation is intentional because a key component of creating a positive impression is the perception of self-care (Myers, 2010, p. 406).

Digital Presentation

In any society, digital or otherwise, self-care is associated with other positive traits that may or may not be readily observable. Barrick, Shaffer, and DeGrassi (2009) indicate that although you might be limited by how much physical presentation can be improved upon, it is important to remember that your attire, personal hygiene, and grooming are controllable factors that contribute to one’s digital and in-person presentation.

Overall, there are several points to bear in mind with respect to self-presentation. First, consciously think about the impression you make at all times, intentional or unintentional. Treat every image and video you make as if it would be viewed by a potential employer, colleague, or instructor—someone who has control of something you want. Second, pay attention to your surroundings when posting a picture or creating a video of yourself. What is in the background? Is it appropriate? Does it detract from the message you are intending to send? Also pay attention to how you are groomed and your clothing. Does the color flatter your skin tone? Are the pants too tight? Is the makeup appropriate for the time of day? These are, of course, broad examples, but the point is to become intentional with self-presentation so that you can continue to put your best digital foot (and face) forward.



Wendy Conaway, Assistant Professor in the Division of General Education at Ashford University



Barrick, M., Shaffer, J., & DeGrassi, S. (2009). What you see may not be what you get: Relationships among self-presentation tactics and ratings of interview and job performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94(6), 1394-1411. Retrieved from PsycArticles Database

Hooley, T., & Yates, J. (2015). ‘If you look the part you’ll get the job’: Should career professionals help clients to enhance their career image? British Journal of Guidance & Counselling,43(4), 438-451. doi: 10.1080/03069885.2014.975676

Kenrick, D., Neuberg, S., & Cialdiani, R. (2010). Social psychology: Goals in interaction, (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyne & Bacon

Myers, D. (2010). Social psychology, (10th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill

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